Ten Ways to Blow a Grant Proposal

(with sincere apologies to David Letterman)

Ten Ways to Blow a Grant Proposal by Naomi Amos, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations Randolph-Macon Women's College

10. Use references who are not in your field or with whom you've not been in touch with for years so that the reviewers will know that you have a broad background.

9. Budget your time according to the deadline. Give yourself a good weekend to get the proposal done.

8. Plan a really big project so that the funding agency will be impressed. Squeeze the project into a two-year timeframe so the reviewers will know how hard you will work.

7. Make sure that the reviewers think the agency will get their money's worth by promising to do cutting edge research that you don't think anyone has every attempted.

6. Show the funder how clever you are by writing everything you know about your particular subject, using jargon that will really impress.

5. Determine your project and send it shotgun approach to foundations and government agencies that have been in the news lately.

4. Invent your own format since the federal guidelines are so dense.

3. Write the title and the abstract first.

2. Make sure that the reviewers know how incredibly full your life has been, how many people appreciate your advice and in what esteem you are held within your community. OR, conversely -- don't brag about your accomplishments. Let the proposal stand on its own, without stating your qualifications.

1. Don't put too much passion in it. After all, it is a proposal that represents your intellectual accomplishments.

The Ten Best Ways to Blow a Grant Proposal Gary Gaffield, Assistant Provost for Academic Programs, Wittenberg University

10. Don't get overly concerned about little inconsistencies in the proposal.

9. Spend all your time on the proposal narrative and don't waste energy on "unimportant" sections like, for example, "results of prior NSF support" in a CCLI proposal.

8. Provide only the minimum information in your budget, and then provide only what the funder explicitly requests.

7. In a research proposal, write as if you already know that your hypothesis is correct and that your methods will work.

6. Don't bother to read the directions, or follow them.

5. Use the proposal as an opportunity to demonstrate how well you can mimic Talcott Parsons' prose style.

4. Propose a great idea, not a great project.

3. Ask for less money than you need.

2. Don't take the time to contact program officers, previous reviewers, or successful applicants to find out if there are any "unwritten rules" to follow. AND, FINALLY...

1. Expect the funding agency to fund YOUR priorities, not their own.

Top Ten Ways to Blow a Grant Proposal Bill Campbell, Director of Grants & Research, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

10. Pad the budget. "I know they'll cut me by 10%, so I'll add 15% just to make sure I get what I need."

9. Write colleagues into the proposal without consulting them. "The Economics Department must be interested in Marxist analyses of housework, I'll just add a quarter time release for them."

8. Write your proposal as if it were a scholarly article, complete with lengthy footnotes, convoluted and incomprehensible sentences, passive constructions, and qualifiers at every turn. "It has perhaps become apparent that large numbers of first-year students show a rather marked need for supportive services, e.g. tutoring (though not in a prescriptive or judgmental way), disabled student services (though not in any fashion which might reinforce negative stereotypes), and academic advising (though not personal counseling, which universities have demonstrated an inability to deliver in a clinically-approved manner), in order to optimize their chances to elevate to second-year status within a reasonable time frame."

7. Argue that you need a grant because your budget has been slashed. "We deserve this grant because we really, really need the money."

6. Commit your university to matching funds without identifying the budget or gaining approval of the budget-owner. "The dean said that supporting scholarship is her highest priority; surely she'll approve this $58,914 match."

5. Don't follow the directions. "I can't possibly present my idea adequately in 20 pages; they won't notice if I single space with 8 pt. type"

4. Presume that you know more about your topic than your readers do. "If those bozos don't understand my discipline, it's not my responsibility."

3. Miss the deadline. "Surely they can't be serious; this due date is only a few days away. This proposal is so good they'll extend it."

2. Submit a proposal without institutional approvals. "Of course the provost will support this; it's integral to my scholarship and at the cutting edge of research in my field! I'll just hit this 'submit to funding agency' button and get her approval later."

1. Ignore the audience. "I'll write this for my most esoteric colleagues in semiotics; FIPSE will just have to find some readers who are capable of understanding it."